The Hamilton County Board of Education will vote next week whether to open enrollment at seven schools to any Hamilton County student.
Most county students are zoned to attend a particular school. Exceptions include students who attend magnet schools, apply for hardship transfers or who have exceptional education needs.
Dalewood Middle, the new Howard Middle, Lookout Valley Middle/High, Red Bank Middle, Rivermont Elementary, Soddy-Daisy Middle and Woodmore Elementary are all under consideration.
School board members say the district mostly chose schools with unused enrollment capacity. All but Rivermont are below 75 percent capacity, with Lookout Valley Middle/High School at only 54.5 percent capacity.
"It's awesome that we are going to have open enrollment next year. I think it's going to show our county commissioners that we are doing everything we can to fill up those classrooms," said District 2 board member Kathy Lennon.
Rivermont piloted an open-enrollment program in 2017 and now is at 119.4 percent capacity. Of its 386 students, 169 (43.8 percent) are not zoned for the school. Lennon was unsure why Rivermont was included on the new open enrollment list. The board will discuss and vote on the list at Thursday's quarterly board meeting.
Other schools below 75 percent capacity include Brainerd High (60.3 percent), Brown Academy (62.3 percent), Center for Creative Arts (71.4 percent), Lookout Mountain Elementary (53 percent), Orchard Knob Middle (72.5 percent), Sequoyah High (39.4 percent) and Tyner High (66.8 percent).
Superintendent Bryan Johnson has publicly said he intended to recommend open-enrollment schools to the board in December.
Hamilton County is slowly becoming a choice district, Johnson told the board at a Nov. 27 work session.
"We are almost, we are about halfway there to being a choice district" for enrollment, Johnson said, noting that the 12 magnet schools, Future Ready Institutes at 13 high schools and Rivermont already are open.
District 8 board member Tucker McClendon said opening enrollment at underused schools makes financial sense.
"It is a step in the right direction. I think we need to try to get these schools that are underutilized to the proper number so it makes financial sense to us," McClendon said. "I think schools that are sitting at 70 percent should be looked at and bumped up to 90 percent."
McClendon also emphasized families should consider their options.
"Each school in Hamilton County has a lot to offer and I think there is plenty of opportunity at the schools we will be voting on," he said.
Transportation won't be provided for students who go to a school outside their zone.
Currently, transportation is also not provided for out-of-zone students to attend Future Ready Institutes, but it is for magnet schools. Only about 5 percent of students at the Future Ready Institutes attend a school outside their zone this year.
Lennon said making parents provide transportation to open-enrollment schools is the district's biggest challenge.
"That's a piece of the puzzle that I do not like, that's something that we will have to continually work on as a school board and as a district," she said.
Board member Rhonda Thurman, of District 1, disagrees.
"They have to provide their own transportation just like it has to be for any child who attends a school out of their zone," she said. "If you are going to get something from the school system, you should have to give something. We cannot continue to transport these kids all over this town."
Thurman also said she has suggested that district administrators review out-of-zone students for discipline or attendance problems.
"I want to be sure that parents are made aware that if their kids are a discipline problem, if they are a tardy problem, if they are an absentee problem, they are going to have to go back to their home schools," she said. "I suggested that I hope they review these students every semester."
The board's quarterly meeting is set for 5:30 p.m. Thursday at the Hamilton County Department of Education, 3074 Hickory Valley Road.
Contact staff writer Meghan Mangrum at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6592. Follow her on Twitter @memangrum.